Keeping the faith: Being a religious minority at a religious school

Published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

Baylor University Chaplain Dr. Burt Burleson acknowledged the university could make some progress to be more inviting. Only recently has policy changed to sanction all traditional Christian groups instead of just Baptist groups.

"I think we have some room to develop there," Burleson said. "We're really beginning to try to work in a more serious way to figure out how to offer the hospitality of Christ and how to welcome the 'other.'"

The inclusion of other groups is something BYU's university chaplain, Jim Slaughter, focuses on in Provo. To help non-LDS students adapt to the Mormon culture, Slaughter said he encourages students to become involved as much as they can in the student body. In recent years, non-LDS students at BYU have created a non-denominational Cross Seekers club, a Newman Society for Catholic students and a Muslim Student Association.

Hani Al-Madhoun is one of those who became heavily involved in student body leadership. He came to BYU from the Gaza Strip after receiving a scholarship linked to the BYU Jerusalem Center. While at BYU he became the president of an Arabic Club in 2002, and helped found the BYU stand-up comedy club Humor U a few years later.

Working with other students helped Al-Madhoun fit in after having a difficult time at first.

"Struggles were cultural mostly — I had to adjust," Al-Madhoun said. "But now, even after graduation from college, most of my friends out here in (Washington) D.C. are members of the LDS Church. We have a lot in common as more brings us together and less drive us apart. I would recommend BYU for my relatives and friends."

Although Malik felt slighted the night of Bin Laden's death, he actually looks back on it as a positive experience, and he learned from the situation as he and his roommate made amends. He was able to explain the importance of parents and family in his culture and came to understand the "Family Guy" sort of humor that pervades American society.

"At the end of the day we became more culturally aware of each other," Malik said. "And I feel that's a great thing."

EMAIL: jbolding@desnews.com

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